Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Flowers of Evil vol. 1-5


I was kind of avoiding this series. I really didn't seem like my sort of thing. I thought it would just be about kids being cruel to each other, and it sort of is, but not in the way that I thought. Then the anime came out and caused all sorts of buzz for its controversial use of rotoscope animation, and I planned on giving it a watch to test the waters before I dished out money for a manga book. But as things turned out, my library recently stocked the first five volumes, so I decided to give it a go. The library is always great for stepping out of your comfort zone.

Takao Kasuga is not your average middle school student. He socializes, but deep down, he believes he is different from the rest of them, and prefers to bury his face in his favorite poetry book, 'The Flowers of Evil'. One day after school, he forgets that book in class and goes back to get it. While retrieving the book, he sees the gym bag of his long time crush, Nanako Saeki, and not being able to help himself, pervertedly fondles her used gym clothes. When he hears someone coming, Kasuga panics and hurries home, gym clothes in hand. The next day, the whole class is up in arms about the theft of Saeki's gym clothes and Kasuga is wracked with guilt, thinking he is a sinner. Contemplating his crime on the way to his favorite book store, he runs in to class loner, Sawa Nakamura, who confesses that she witnessed his misdeed, and kicks off a cycle of sadistic blackmail that will make Kasuga question everything he knows to be true.

The first volume of this series was surprisingly comedic, and not dark comedy. Nakamura's crazy smile and expression, her calling her teacher "shitbug" to his face, and the psychological torture she employs on Kasuga just had be laughing out loud several times. And that's rare for me even for pure, straightforward comedies. I'm not really sure if this is intentional, or if there is just something wrong with me. I'm hoping it's the former, because it shocked me that I took pleasure in Kasuga getting mentally tortured. That isn't me. I turn my head when people get hurt in movies, so why did I enjoy Kasuga's angish? It's interesting and odd, but I'll just go with it. Life's too short to apologize for what you laugh at. With bullying being such a sensitive subject these days, I thought this would be an uncomfortable and serious read, but volume one didn't convey that at all. I feel like the overall vibe changed quite a bit in following volumes though.

I couldn't put volume one down. You could say that it was like a drug. Not just in that it was addicting, but I also felt strangely euphoric while reading. Especially during the climax where Nakamura puts her cruelty towards Kasuga into overdrive. Also like a drug, for every high, there has to be a low. After the initial glee of watching Nakamura screw with Kasuga psychologically hit its peak at the end of volume one, volume two kind of leveled off and rather than continue escalating, it was just more of the same. By the end of volume three, I thought that the three way relationship between Nakamura, Kasuga, and Saeki could be really interesting, but more and more I felt like the story was just turning into some kids' self inflicted melodrama.

I'm confused about how I feel about the characters. Technically, they should be super interesting and count as "well written", but somehow they just aren't clicking with me. Both Kasuga and Saeki actually develop quite well for only five volumes of story. Nakamura is still more of a mystery, but I can't fault the author on that because that seems to be the plan. I think the problem is that they are neither likeable or relatable. I thought I liked Nakamura at first, but I was just blinded by how shockingly blunt she is. On the surface, her actions are entertaining for a time, but underneath it all, she comes across as unhinged and just as angsty as Kasuga. Finally you see that she is just plain mean. But there is still a bit of intrigue on her exact motives, feelings and how she came to be this way, so I have not given up on her character quite yet. I briefly enjoyed watching these characters as a fascinated observer, but in the end, not being able to relate to them at all caused my interest to wane.

One thing I don't get is the eye flower imagery. What is it suppose to mean? I know that it is a stylized version of Odilon Redon's flower illustration from Charles Baudelaire's 'Les Fleurs du mal' poetry book, but I don't get the relevance as a piece of recurring symbolism. Do I have to read Baudelaire's poetry to get this? I doubt I would understand anyway, since I just don't get poetry either. I feel like I am missing a layer of understanding and enjoyment by not comprehending the eye flower's importance and not having previously experienced Baudelaire's work. This actually isn't a bad thing. Perhaps the importance and full meaning is not yet revealed and it is another aspect to look forward to. Or maybe if I read Baudelaire's poems, I will have a new appreciation of this series on future rereads....Or it could already be revealed plain as day for readers smarter than I to see. Then again, maybe it isn't plot important at all and I am over-thinking things. We'll see.

'The Flowers of Evil' has a strangely funny first volume and sets up a great premise. Subsequent volumes don't quite live up to the first, but there were still aspects to enjoy and still more to look forward to. I'm going to keep following this series, though it will mostly be out of curiosity, rather than anticipation.


Monday, April 22, 2013

NonNonBa


Would you believe that I was afraid to read this book? Silly, I know, but even though I bought this book almost a year ago, I kept putting off reading it because I was afraid I wouldn't like it. I had previously read one of Shigeru Mizuki's other works, 'Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths', and it didn't particularly impress me. Shigeru Mizuki's works are highly regarded and award winning in Japan, and the works released in English have been critically acclaimed as well, so when I don't see what everyone else seems to see, it makes me feel like I have bad taste or something. But I finally decided to sit down and give 'NonNonBa' a read, and I really wish I hadn't waited so long, because it turned out to be a great book.

Very much a memoir of Shiguru Mizuki's childhood, 'NonNonBa' takes a focused look at his daily life in pre-World War II coastal Japan. Most specifically, his interactions with his grandmother, who he called "NonNonBa". NonNonBa was a spiritual expert of sorts and taught young Shigeru all about yōkai, which is a blanket term for ghosts, monsters, demons and other mysterious creatures from Japanese folklore. Through these whimsical and sometimes scary folk tales, NonNonBa passed on life lessons hidden within her superstitions, and greatly bolstered Shigeru's imagination, leading him to become known as the forefather of yōkai manga.

This manga was a most pleasant surprise for me. Not only because I highly underestimated it, but because I wasn't expecting it to be so heavy with aspects of one of my favorite sub-genres. That is, slice-of-life. More specifically, daily life. In past blog posts, I've talked about how I could understand how some would find daily life stories boring, but for some reason, they are oh so endearing to me. I think it's perhaps they feel so natural in the events featured and the pace. There are no convoluted plot lines to artificially make things more interesting and exciting. Things are often slow going and thoughtful and when dramatic things do happen, they don't feel forced or melodramatic. Being a memoir, this story captures all of that. Sometimes a chapter is just Shigeru learning about yōkai. Sometimes a chapter is about him having fun with his friends. And sometimes it is about him coping with loss or his family's struggles. Slice-of-life allows for an evolving pace and tone that never feels unnatural, which you don't often get with plot heavy stories in my experience.

'NonNonBa' has got some pretty interesting "characters". I put characters in quotations because, this being a memoir, as far as I know, these are true to life, real people. One of my favorites is Shigeru's father, Nozomu. He is not your stereotypical, strict Japanese father. This guy was kind of a free spirit, more than a little lazy, and a bit flaky. But he was also rather wise in his life advice to Shigeru, even if he didn't always live by his own words. And I absolutely loved the level of encouragement he gave Shigeru in following his dreams of becoming an artist. And of course, there's the title character, NonNonBa. It seems like she can find a yōkai tale to fit every part of life. Stains on the ceiling? That's a yōkai. Feel like someone is following you? Another yōkai. Didn't clean the bath properly? Watch out for the yōkai. Through NonNonBa, these folk tales are seamlessly woven into the story, and not only did they seem to add more than a bit of fun to Shigeru's life, but they also came across as lessons sometimes. They kind of reminded me of western fables like "the boy who cried wolf" and what not.

For me, the art of 'NonNonBa' is a big step up from the art I experienced in 'Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths'. It has the same style of cartoony characters on highly detailed, semi-realistic backgrounds, but the scenery of 'Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths' just didn't seem to allow for dynamic art. Jungles, beaches and uniformed soldiers during a war can be pretty bleak and just plain. 'NonNonBa' on the other hand has a more varied setting and many more uniquely designed characters. Not to mention the imaginative yōkai designs. On top of that, the book starts off with some surprisingly well done color pages. Check out a free preview of 'NonNonBa and sample the art for yourself.

I know I said I didn't really care for 'Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths', but after reading 'NonNonBa', I have a new, retrospective respect for it. Both being at least semi-autobiographical accounts of Shigeru Mizuki's life, they act as great companions to each other. And the pre-World World II tone of 'NonNonBa' is a really interesting contrast to the thick of battle that is 'Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths'. That said, I still much prefer 'NonNonBa' and I'm truly glad I finally got around to reading it.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Knights of Sidonia vol. 2


After being unexpectedly disappointed by the first volume of 'Knights of Sidonia', I am very pleased to say that volume two didn't continue that trend. Things kick off with some nice color pages that lead in to a a battle scene with a Guana that I found to be far superior to the first volume's battle choreography. Perhaps due to the increased length, making everything a little more coherent, but Nagate's heroics also spiced things up a lot. Though the Guana as an enemy still don't really excite me. It doesn't help that they are mostly just blob tentacle monsters that can take on any form, so they are essentially a "faceless" enemy with no known motivations, and that makes them harder to hate.

Not only was the battle scene more entertaining this time around, but it brought on another development. In the first volume, the characters(besides Nagate) seemed inhuman and unrelatable. Only the very last scene of the book showed a small display of emotion that saved things for me. This volume is much improved in that area. When Nagate went to save Hoshijiro's life after the fight with the Guana, it inspired the entire Garde battalion to break protocol to save them both. I did not expect this at all from them. And this small detail made me feel more connected to the Sidonia population in general.

This same scene also created a new layer to the story that is much welcomed by me. Romance. Nagate and Hoshijiro were stranded in space in close quarters for about two weeks. Not only did Nagate save Hoshijiro's life, but she saved him from dehydration by giving him her pee to drink! How could they not bond after that haha? This romantic development is followed up with an actual date where they tour the underwater floating tanks. Both of these scenes have a slight twinge of comedy to them, which is also a welcome element when things can be pretty gloomy in the vastness of space with giant monsters constantly attacking. And it's not just Hoshijiro that Nagate is coupled with. He's on the verge of building his own harem with new girl, Yuhata Midorikawa, having a crush on him and the memorable third gender character introduced last volume, Izana Shinatose, seemingly wanting to monopolize our main character's company.

One of the simple yet effective details of this volume was an info dump courtesy of Nagate looking up the history of Guanas and humans on the computer. We learn about the very first Guana attack on Earth and how everyone evacuated. We even learn the dates and that there may be other ships out there. They lost communication long ago, but meeting up with another colony is something I wouldn't mind seeing later in the story. It could add a lot to the story. 

A second battle scene, while not as entertaining as the first, ignites a shocking development that both upset me and really hooked me in to the story. While fighting a "cluster ship" Guana(many Guana cores clustered together to make a massive super-organism), Kunato Norio, that jerk from the last volume that is jealous of Nagate, sets Nagate up for failure with bad orders. It was Kunato that was suppose to be the pilot of the special Tsugumori Garde mech before Nagate showed up, and he seems to be taking it quite hard. To the point where he basically tried to get Nagate killed and endangered the rest of the battalion as well. Nagate survived, but now everyone hates him because the failure appeared to be his fault. It's a shame too, because everyone had just started to warm up to him after his earlier display of heroics. Forget the Guana. For me, Kunato is the real antagonist of this series, and I really want to see him get what's coming to him. As an interesting side detail, Kunato seems to belong to a prestigious family who's company developed the Garde mechs. This same company seems to have replaced Toha Heavy Industries as the primary contractor of Sidonia. Anyone who has read Nihei's previous works might recognize that company name. Probably just a reference, but it could lead to interesting plot developments.

I've got to say, I was quite pessimistic about continuing this series before I sat down to read this volume. I was even bouncing around the idea of canceling my volume 3 preorder(and I would definitely have if this volume didn't deliver). Instead, I'm off to preorder volumes 4 and 5. This volume renewed my faith with more varied and dynamic art, great character interaction, exciting fight scenes, and an all around better pace and story structure. If that wasn't enough, the preview pages for volume 3 imply some interesting questions will be answered. I can't wait.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Animal Land vol. 7


Volume 7 picks up right where volume 6 left off. Giller and his fearsome Chimera's continue to assault Riemu's village of gorillas, but just as things were looking grim, Taroza awakens the powerful ability to sync up with other animals and choreograph their movements mentally. Using the strength of the gorillas and the aerial advantage of birds, Taroza manages to finally defeat one of the chimeras, but not without great strain on his mind and body. I'm not sure how I feel about this new ability yet. Yeah, it could lead to some really creative fights, but the idea of the shonen hero controlling of creatures basically as his puppet weapons is kind of odd. I guess as long as the animals are willing, it's no big deal, but it's not like he asks those birds if they wanted to join a fight to the death.

Even with this new found ability of Taroza's, exhaustion set in and he ended up being no match for Giller's forces. Desperate to save everyone's lives, Riemu attempted to negotiate with Giller. Hand over the notes of the mysterious "Quo", or die. Of course, Giller being the villain felt no obligation to keep his promise, and once he had what he wanted, proceeded to slaughter Riemu's entire village. Luckily, village elder Gorion thought ahead and pleaded with Taroza to use his power one last time to control the village children into hiding, and with the village children safe, Taroza and his group made their escape back home with the distraught Riemu in tow. Back at the village, Taroza concocts a plan to cheer up Riemu and make her feel at home. He puts together a sports festival of sorts, where all the animals work together to complete obstacles for prizes. I was a little too distracted by the main plot to properly enjoy this chapter, but looking back, it was quite necessary for Riemu's character. Besides giving her time to heal emotionally, it gave her a chance to bond with Taroza's village. It was also interesting to see three of the five humans come together to interact. Now we have Taroza, Capri and Riemu all together in one spot for the first time.

Meanwhile, Jyu, the would-be antagonist that we met in earlier volumes has had his own encounter with Giller. Giller deems Jyu to be the perfect test subject for his Chimera's to beat up on. Jyu disagrees and fares much better than Taroza's group. Just Jyu and his wolf Olivia make quick work of the single Chimeras. This is where the Chimeras are explained, and given their name, it's not really a surprise or anything. They can actually absorb the flesh of other creatures and take on their traits to become more fearsome. This time, Giller gives a Chimera some gorilla flesh from when he killed off Riemu's village. This new gorilla Chimera actually looks a lot cooler than the base Chimera design. Kind of like a mutated King Kong. Very scary. And this gorilla Chimera was much more fearsome than the regular Chimeras that Jyu faced before. So much so that it forced him to flee for his life, but not before declaring that he will be the one to kill Giller one day. This is an interesting turn for Jyu's character, if not kind of predictable. For those who have read 'Zatch Bell', Jyu evokes the spirit of Brago in both design and demeanor. Brago is kind of like the Vegeta to Zatch's Goku. I'm not sure if Jyu will become an ally to Taroza outright, but at least now they have a shared enemy in Giller. So in a way, it feels like Makoto Raiku is following an old pattern. Something I haven't felt until now with 'Animal Land'. We'll see how things really turn out though.

Two whole seasons pass and now that Taroza has enough Eternal Fruit seeds to sustain a crop, it is time to test it on some carnivores. Much to his delight, the Eternal Fruit passes with flying colors with Capri's lion friends. Taroza still doesn't know if he will succeed where Quo failed, but at least for this one moment, he can be happy. And this is where things really pique my interest. It seems like in each volume, even if there are some slow parts, there is always a huge plot bombshell. And this one didn't disappoint. Riemu tells Taroza and Capri that though she gave Giller Quo's notebook, he actually had a second one that she kept. This notebook has some very intriguing information. It seems that Jyu, Taroza, Capri, Riemu, and Giller are known as the "miracle children" and where brought to this era where animals rule from all different time periods. According to Quo, the survival of humanity rest in their hands and he also wants one of them to continue his dream of a peaceful world where all animals live in harmony. Quo created a machine called the "Gaia Spinal" that if turned on, would allow for all animals to communicate with each other. Quo speculated that it would most surely cause mass confusion and war, but he felt that it was the only chance of peace. Always in the back of my mind is the thought that both Quo and Taroza's goal of peace among all animals in not feasible. What, are all animals going to come together holding hands and eating miracle fruit with no killing ever again? In the world we live in where there has hardly been a time without war and there are senseless killings every day, this is an idea that just seems impossible and my mind refuses to comprehend it. It's like as a human, I've been conditioned to believe that violence is inevitable, which is quite sad. That's why I really want Taroza to succeed, but Makoto Raiku will really impress me if he manages to do it in a believable way. This "Gaia Spinal" gamble seems like a step in the right direction.

After deliberating about the information found in Quo's notes, both Riemu and Capri believed that they shouldn't turn on the machine and that they should just focus on protecting the peace that they already had in their small village. Surely it is impossible to replicate and sustain these results the world over? Interestingly enough, with some thought, Taroza agreed. This intrigues me because this is basically a shonen protagonist giving up his dream that had previously drove the story forward. But it wasn't due to wavering will. Taroza actually put thought into it and came to the conclusion that his dream was unrealistic, as well as reaffirmed in his mind the things that were really important to him that he needed to protect. I find this mentality to be quite rare for shonen main characters, and I kind of like it. Though I seriously doubt this will be the end of it. The manga is on its 10th volume in Japan, so something must happen to set Taroza back into action. Too bad for me that I'll have to wait until October when volume 8 comes out to find out just what that is...

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin vol. 1


I must admit, I didn't want to get into this series. It's seemingly 11+ volumes long with each approaching $30 retail. For someone with a limited entertainment budget, investing more than $300 into one thing is not an easy decision to make. I'm also pretty much a complete Gundam newbie. My only experience with the franchise is the anime, 'Mobile Fighter G Gundam', which I only watched casually and as far as I know, it is its own universe and not indicative of the core franchise. So when Vertical Inc., released the first book last month, I had no intention of even giving it a second look....but I was forced to....again and again and again. My Twitter feed was bombarded with with praise for volume 1 and pictures of proud owners holding up their new hardcovers. Not only that, but most of the manga blogs I follow were in agreement with their critical acclaim. Still, I held out. That is, until my library got a copy...I couldn't resist anymore. Now that I could try it for free, I had no excuse not to give it a read. Well, after reading volume 1, it seems 'Mobile Suit Gundam:The Origin' has got its hooks in me for the long haul.

In the year Universal Century 0079, mankind had already been colonizing outer space for over fifty years. Gigantic cylindrical space ships with terraformed interiors were homes to millions of people who lived out their lives in normality, until one such colony declared independence from the Earth Federation and dubbed itself "The Principality of Zeon". Using massive space battleships and "mobile suits", the Principality of Zeon and the Earth Federation waged war with each other, but after only a little more than a month, half of the population of humanity had been killed off, and the two sides entered a state of stalemate. Eight months later, our story picks up on another one of the space colonies. This one home to the fifteen year old Amuro Ray, son of Tem Ray, project leader of the new mobile suit protype, RX-78 Gundam. At the same time, Lieutenant Commander Char "The Red Comet" was leading a recon mission against treaty, to gain intelligence on this new "Gundam" that could turn the tides of the war. What was suppose to be a stealth mission turned into a full on battle, and the colony ship was damaged to the point of evacuation. In the chaos, Amuro was forced to pilot the new RX-78 Gundam and fight for his, and his fellow colonists' lives. Amuro Ray, a young man thrust into the role of protector. Will he be able to fend of the fabled mobile suit pilot know as "The Red Comet"?!?

After the initial story setup statements, this story doesn't have a whole lot of exposition. You really hit the ground running. I'm not sure if this is because the author partially assumes the reader already knows a lot about the Gundam universe, or if this is just how the narrative is structured. Whatever the case, the reader is thrown right in to the thick of things right along with the characters. You get the sense that the plot hits them just as hard and fast as it does you. It's an intriguing way to introduce things for a first volume. The story doesn't slow down to give detailed characterization, yet gives us just enough to know who is important, but not quite enough to outright "like" or get attached to anymone. Even the main, Amuro Ray, isn't given the star treatment. The story isn't about just him. Normally, I'd be a little worried since I tend to need a likeable main character to latch on to, but instead, I feel like the author wants us to experience the story and the world with the characters, and we will get to know them and like or dislike them naturally, rather than have their backstory and personality forced on us at light-speed in an attempt to grab readers.

I was a little surprised how good the action in this series is. It's not as if I had low expectations or anything. Mobile suits battling in space screams "action". It's just that I didn't expect the action to be so coherent and dynamic as it is. Being in the blackness of space, I could see how it would be easy for the art to turn stale and just be two mobile suits fighting on a black background. The artist keeps it fresh though and utilizes light trails, cannon fire, beams, explosions and thruster flames to illustrate motion really well. And that brings me to the topic of art. Yoshikazu Yasuhiko has a nice style. It's got a charming, old-school look to it that I feel is timeless. You could send this book back in time to a kid in the 1970's, or send it into the future and I think it would fit in in any era. I also feel like the all the qualities of the art; paneling, inking, character designs, action choreography, could be universally liked the world over. Not just by manga fans.

I complained about the price earlier, but after you hold the book in your hands and flip through the pages, you know that you get what you pay for. Its got an over-sized, durable hardcover that will look great on my shelf. Heavy, glossy pages are complimented by many color pages throughout the book. And it's topped off with essays by famous Gundam fans like Evangelion's, Hideaki Anno. Quite a nice presentation by Vertical Inc. I'm sure that Gundam fans already have this book, but as someone new to the franchise, I have to say that this is well worth a look. In fact, being new to the franchise might be even better. I get to experience this legendary anime story for the first time through my preferred medium of manga. Of course, I'm highly anticipating volume 2.


Saturday, April 13, 2013

I Kill Giants


I first took notice of this series a while ago while reading manga news. 'I Kill Giants' by written by Joe Kelly and illustrated by JM Ken Niimura, had won the Fifth International Manga Award. A western comic winning a manga award further blurs the line of the definition of manga, which I find quite fascinating, but beyond that, I somehow forgot about this book. Later on, I came across another headline stating that 'I Kill Giants' would be previewed in IKKI magazine(a magazine that has spawned some of my favorites), and would be printed in its entirety in Japanese by Shogakukan. My interest was piqued once again, but like the time before, I let it slip my mind. Then just last week, one of the blogs I follow gave a mention to this book, and this time, I didn't let myself forget. I went right to my library database and lo and behold, they had it in the system. I checked it out right away, and after reading this book, I'm so glad I didn't let it slip past my radar again.

Barbara Thorson is a troubled young girl. An outcast with no friends, dealing with issues at home, and encountering bullies at school. On top of that, people think she is crazy because all she talks about is killing giants. She thinks giants are coming to destroy everything that makes life worth living and she is constantly preparing for them with traps and sacrifices. Is this all in her head? A fantasy to deal with her problems? Or maybe there really are giants, and only Barbara and her mighty hammer Coveleski can defeat them.

For such a single volume story, there are some really interesting and well developed characters. Most noticeably, the main character Barbara Thorson. At first, I didn't like Barbara. She has a really bad attitude, and though it may be justified by her situation, it doesn't make her easy to like. Liking a main character is usually a must for me. Luckily, Barbara develops to be much more than a bad attitude. She is very smart mouthed and even kind of mean. She has no patience for people less intelligent than her and worst of all, she takes her problems out on the people that are trying to help her. As I said, her situation makes this completely understandable, but that doesn't mean it's right. Which is a good thing. It makes her more complex. She doesn't start out "good" like most stories' heroes. Over the course of the story, she makes a friend, Sophia, which brings out great changes in her. She also learns to open up to her school counselor, Mrs. Molle, who is a really nicely done side character who genuinely cares for Barbara. I won't spoil you with the details of her development, but let's just say that by the end of the series, she went from a character that rubbed me the wrong way, to a character that I cared about and was proud of. I think that's a sign of good writing.

The art of 'I Kill Giants' is different than what I am used to. Not typically "manga-like", but even so, JM Ken Niimura's style is not out of place previewed in IKKI next to the likes of Taiyo Matsumoto. I can't say the art blew me away or anything, but I appreciate its distinctiveness. Sometimes it reminded me of a charcoal drawing with its shades of dark blacks and greys, but done very cleanly. The art's best feature is conveying emotion. Both body language and facial features were very expressive. So though I am pretty passive on the style, technically the art did its job quite well. Here is IKKI's preview of chapter one so you can experience the art for yourself(sorry, it's in Japanese).

I have one, small criticism about this book. I think that all the talk of giants and the strange images of pixies that she sees should have stayed completely symbolic. It really felt like all of that stuff was just Barbara creating fantasies as a coping mechanism for the problems in her life.....then an actual Titan shows up and she actually fights it. The fight scene was pretty decent, but beyond that, it didn't add much to the story and could even be said to negate the strong symbolism. It's almost if Joe Kelly couldn't decide if he wanted it to be symbolic or real. Or maybe he wanted the reader to decide? Though it is pretty clear that they giants were real. Barbara's friends saw it and Coveleski made a huge dent in her porch when she dropped it before it shrank. The Titan symbolizing Barbara's mom's cancer and her fears would have been much more powerful for me than the Titan actually being real in my opinion.

Is it a manga? Is it a western comic? It's both! And I think you should read it. I found the story to be very powerful. I even teared up a little in the end. Tears of sympathy, and tears of happiness. You can't ask for much more than a dual level tearjerker.